The last chapter.
The car wasn't going anywhere. No matter how hard Joel tried, it just wasn't happening. I didn't mind though; the day was nice, the breeze was warm and there was no one trying to kill us.
I sat behind Ellie in the car. She didn't seem as relaxed as I was and kept tracing her arm. She had been doing that a lot lately. It still looked raw and blistered so I hoped it wasn't hurting her.
"You okay?" I asked, leaning over to place my chin on her shoulder. She tensed a little.
"You don't sound fine." I hadn't been letting her get away with stuff like that anymore. I knew when she wasn't okay. I could read her like a Savage Starlight comic.
"I am. Just...thinking," she said before leaning her cheek against mine and closing her eyes.
"What about?" I mumbled, lazily looping my arms around her waist. Despite the lack of my confession (I'm getting to it) we wormed our way into these situations so easily it's like I already had. Actually being able to call her mine and be in these moments would only make it better.
I felt her eyelashes against my cheek as they fluttered. "Jesse I-"
The hood slammed shut and Ellie jumped out of the embrace. Joel sauntered round, dusting off his hands. "Looks like we're walking." Ellie hopped up and out of the car. I stayed where I was, already wanting to punch Joel in his beardy face. "I interrupt something?" I glared at Joel but he didn't seem affected. "When you gonna tell her?"
"When the time is right."
He rolled his eyes at the usual answer. "You gotta grow some stones boy. You're almost sixteen." He looked over his shoulder. Ellie was gazing into the forest, her back to us. He came closer and leaned down. "Somethin's bothering her. I don't know what but she seems to relax when you two get cosy."
"Before she pushes me away like I'm the Infected one," I grumbled.
"Maybe now is the time then," Joel said. "She ain't gonna wait forever."
"How do I know she even likes me? She just might be the cuddly type."
Joel gave me a pointed look. "I don't think Ellie would even high-five someone she didn't trust. Have you ever seen her get that close with anyone else?" I shook my head. "Then go for it kiddo."
"Are you guys coming or what?" Ellie demanded, tapping her foot impatiently.
Joel looked to me briefly. "Uh...yeah. Should be a straight shot through those woods."
Ellie looked towards the trees. "Alright."
She set off without waiting so Joel jogged to catch up so she could get through the barbed wire. Once we were all through we set off, letting Joel lead the way. It's not that we didn't know which way to go, I just think Ellie wanted to get a good look at everything.
Joel started to talk about Sarah, saying how the two of them used to hike. He talked about how Ellie would have liked her and how they could have been good friends. I get the feeling Joel still had the image of his little girl in his head, considering he never once mentioned whether or not I would like her.
It was okay, Ellie was all I needed anyway.
We made it to the top, looking down into the clearing. The settlement was nestled peacefully among the mountains, the river running through the dam and into the town. Electricity was running through the power lines and all the lives down there continued on peacefully.
"There it is," I breathed.
We moved closer to the settlement, crossing the stream that ran from the mountains and fed into the river. It took some scaling but we finally got up and onto the other side. From here we were in the clear. I was so excited I almost left Ellie and Joel in the dust.
"Hey...guys wait." Joel and I stopped and I hadn't even realised Ellie was lagging behind us. She was fiddling uncomfortably with her hands and looked so at war with herself I was afraid she'd turn tail and run away. With a heavy sigh she seemed to make her decision. "Back in Boston...Back when I was bitten. I wasn't alone. My best friend was there. And she got bit too." I went to her side instantly and she smiled appreciatively. Joel stayed put and waited for her to continue. "We didn't know what to do. So...she says, 'Let's just wait it out. Y'know we can be all poetic and just lose our minds together'." Her bottom lip started to tremble but she gulped it down. "I-I'm still waiting for my turn."
"Ellie-" Joel tried.
"Her name was Riley and she was the first to die." She looked to me. "And then it was Tess. And then Sam."
I still hated it when she brought him up but this wasn't about me.
"None of that is on you," Joel said sternly.
"No you don't understand," Ellie said desperately. This wasn't about her getting it off her chest, she needed us to know this about her before we restarted.
But Joel seemed to think he already had it. "I struggled with surviving for a long time. So has Jesse. And you – no matter what, you gotta keep finding something to fight for." I grabbed Ellie's hand and squeezed it but she pulled hers away. "I know that's not what you want to hear right now bu-"
"Swear to me," Ellie cut off. "Swear to me that everything you said about the Fireflies is true."
Ellie couldn't see my face from where she stood. If she could she would see me staring at Joel, silently begging him to just say the right thing. Make her feel better, lie if he had to, just make it so she would be okay.
She stared at Joel then me, green eyes searching for any sign of deceit. I kept mine lowered, flickering into hers in and out.
She sighed heavily. "Alright, I guess."
Joel let out a breath through his nose. "Good. Let's go."
He started to move but something kept my feet rooted to the spot. Ellie was about to follow but I grabbed her hand. She looked at me confused and Joel stopped to.
"Could you give us a minute?"
Joel wasn't the quickest but he finally seemed to catch on. "Couple minutes, then follow." He set off down the hillside, leaving me and Ellie alone.
I took a deep breath. "So..." God I hated how awkward I started. "I uh...I have something I gotta tell you...you know how you're the only girl I've ever kissed?" she nodded. "Well...I've been thinking about that a lot and...I'm so okay with that."
Her brow furrowed. "I don't get it."
"What I'm saying is..." I trailed off, rubbing the back of my neck. "I...I only want to kiss you. You and no one else. And...I'd like it if you wouldn't kiss anyone either."
Ellie looked up at me for a good few moments. "You only want me?"
I nodded. "Yep. No one else could ever take your place."
Ellie nodded, sighing through her nose. "Then you should know...you're not the first person I've kissed."
"Oh..." I guess that was okay. To be expected really. She was a pretty girl so I can't be mad if she's ever kissed another guy before she met me. "Lucky guy," I said, trying not to sound too disappointed.
"...Girl." I looked wide eyed at Ellie. "I kissed Riley before we got Infected."
My world was slowly starting to crumble but I had to put on a brave face. "So...you're gay?"
"What? No I'm not gay," she protested.
"You don't have to hide it Ellie it's okay. I won't judge you," I tried to calm her down but she started to get the look she gets on her face before one of our arguments breaks out.
"Jesse I'm not gay. Just let me explain."
I was starting to get mad. I was trying to confess my heart to her and she was denying something that would keep me from being with her. "Explain what? That after all this, all the shit, all the fighting, all that time I spent falling more and more in love with you and you're telling me that you kissed a girl and you're not gay?! Then what is it Ellie? What don't I understand?"
"I only kiss people I'm in love with!"
"What good does that do me? You obviously don't have the same feelings I do so why are we dragging this out?" Ellie stared at me, eyes piercing right into mine. That same look she gave me in the tunnel. "Oh..."
"Yeah," she mumbled, looking down.
A goofy smile spread across my face. "So...you love me?"
"I guess. I'm only fourteen." She kept looking at the ground.
"Wow...this is great." She looked up. I kept smiling as I stepped closer, wrapping her in my arms. "I love you too, Ellie."
I started to lean down, my lips less than a millimetre from hers.
"Don't." Her voice cracked as she pushed me back.
"Ellie?" She wouldn't look at me. "Ellie what's wrong?"
"Why?" she kept her eyes lowered but I could hear the bubble in her voice, the hiccups making their way to the surface. "Why did you have to love me."
"You make it impossible not to."
"Don't say shit like that!" She yelled, stepping away from me. "I can't be someone's girlfriend Jesse! I can't be with you the way you deserve! I can't be with anyone like that!"
"Why?" I demanded. "What's stopping you? What are you afraid of? Do you think I'd leave you? I promised I'd follow you! Don't you trust me?"
"You know I do!" she snapped back.
"Then what's stopping you?"
"I'm Infected." Her voice had gone from hysterical to even. "I'm carrying the virus which means I can spread it. If it can be spread through a bite then anything more than a peck is to dangerous. One slip up and you're dead Jesse." Her breathing was heavier now, emotion wracking through her every word. "I can't lose you. You and Joel are all I have left...I'm afraid of being alone and the thought of infecting you..." her voice broke and a sob wracked through her. "Say something," she spat through her tears.
I couldn't though. Nothing could have prepared me for this.
I can't be with the girl I love because she's afraid she'll kill me.
I could feel the tears starting to form as I stepped forwards again, wrapping her in my arms. She crumpled against me, clutching my jacket. This only lasted a few seconds before she remembered what was happening.
"No! No don't!" she beat my chest over and over but I wouldn't let go, just let my tears fall. She gave up and returned to the embrace, sobbing with me.
A few moments went past as we held each other. Knowing we were on the clock, I ended the embrace, pulling back to brush some tears left on her face away.
"So what happens now?" I asked, wiping my own eyes. I wasn't ashamed to cry in front of Ellie.
"We carry on," Ellie said. "We keep fighting. We keep going."
"Knowing that we can't..." I trailed off but she nodded anyway.
"There isn't another way."
I took a deep breath, biting the inside of my lip before releasing it heavily.
So...that's it. It's been fun, I've loved getting your reviews and I've loved watching everyone fall in love with Jesse and watch him grow. This has been my favorite fic to write because you guys have made it a treat to create. I can only hope the ending lived up to expectations.
I am giving you all full permission to review whatever you want. No negative name calling would be appreciated but you can say what you want, flame, call it shit, praise it to the heavens or go full on in depth critique - do whatever you want.
You just might be rewarded.